By Elizabeth Jannuzzi |
RED BANK – “You have the authority,” said Heather Harpham. “You are the storyteller!”
In a packed room on Sept. 30 at Project Write Now’s studio in Red Bank, Harpham, author of a newly published memoir “Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After,” encouraged her audience to take charge of their stories.
The 20 attendees of the Visiting Writers Series, offered by Project Write Now’s Writers Institute, sat with pens and notebooks, eager to learn from Harpham’s success.
Harpham’s memoir, published in August, has been chosen for the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Series and Amazon’s Best Memoir of the Month, and included in Oprah.com’s “5 Memoirs That Will Blow Your Mind.”
“When I saw that she was coming to Red Bank, I was already familiar with her work and I was excited to meet her,” said Kerri Sullivan of Tinton Falls, a librarian and writer. “I’d seen the memoir reviewed in several publications and on NPR.”
At the workshop, Harpham shared her journey, from the original inspiration for the memoir, a story about her infant daughter’s life-threatening illness, through the drafting and revision process to eventual publication. She shared valuable insight she’d gained that helped her break through and find the voice she needed to tell her difficult story.
“I often write right up to the precipice of the moment and then back down,” said Harpham. “I thought I was protecting my readers, but I discovered I was protecting myself. If you’re willing to go somewhere deep in yourself, it’s usually going to be an invitation to readers to go somewhere deep in themselves. That’s hard, but it’s worth it.”
Several heads nodded in agreement. Getting to the emotional truth in your writing is a common theme in the classes and workshops at Project Write Now’s Writers Institute.
Other topics discussed included truthfulness in memoir, sensory details, and character portrayal. Harpham read from her memoir and led the group in a lively writing exercise, which led to writing and sharing compelling emotional vignettes, the seeds perhaps for longer stories.
Project Write Now’s Writers Institute is a membership organization dedicated to creating a vibrant, supportive community for adult writers. It was formed at the beginning of this year when the founders of Project Write Now, Jennifer Chauhan of River Vale, Allison Tevald of Atlantic Highlands, and Greg Phelan of Fair Haven noticed that their adult writers were seeking more adult programs and offerings to help them hone their craft and build a community.
“Our goal is to build a writing community here in Monmouth County,” Phelan said. “We want our studio to be a place for writers to connect with each other and work with accomplished published writers like Heather.”
In addition to visiting authors and adult classes, Project Write Now’s Writers Institute offers informal gatherings for writers, a monthly newsletter with events, interviews, and writing tips, and an open mic night.
Voices & Verse, the next open mic night, will be held 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4 at Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank.
While the writer gatherings and open mic nights are free, the workshops and classes require a registration fee which helps to support Project Write Now’s community outreach programs for local, underserved students including a popular after-school writing studio and free writing workshop experiences for children and adults.
“I know that when I sign up for a class at Project Write Now that my money goes to helping support its service work,” said Meredith O’Brien of Fair Haven, a memoir student who attended Saturday’s event. “I feel like I’m helping the community by taking a writing class.”
Harpham seemed impressed by the altruistic vibe at the Project Write Now studio.
“I absolutely loved working with your warm, smart, thoughtful community of writers,” said Harpham. “How lucky you all are to have one another.”
In addition to fee-based classes, Project Write Now relies on donations. Their annual fundraiser, “Come Together: A Performance + Party,” which this year includes a staged reading and live music will take place 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13 at Two River Theater in Red Bank.
On Saturday, Jan. 27, writers will once again gather at Project Write Now with their pens and notebooks to learn from the next visiting writer, Melissa Febos, a creative writer professor at Monmouth University and author of the critically acclaimed memoirs, “Whip Smart” (St. Martin’s Press 2010) and “Abandon Me” (Bloomsbury USA 2017). To register, visit www.projectwritenow.org.
This article was first published in the Oct. 5 – 12, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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